You don’t know true fear as a writer until you hear the words “We need 30 fresh article ideas within the next 24 hours.”
It’s all well and good to wait for inspiration. In a lot of ways, it’s preferable. (It’s certainly more comfortable). Unfortunately, if you decide to turn your writing into a business – rather than just a hobby–you don’t always have that luxury.
Sometimes you’re forced to come up with ideas…FAST!
And, without fail, you’ll be asked for quick ideas when you feel the most “blocked” and least like giving them. It’s an unspoken law of the universe.
But, as a professional, you’ll have to deliver the goods anyway. You’ll have to force yourself.
So here are some tips to get your brain juices flowing in the right direction…
1. Get some sleep.
Eating food and taking a shower are also great, but sleep is a “biggie” that I forget more easily than the other two. And it’s SO important. The more you deprive your brain of sleep the more your brain, well, just doesn’t want to function. You don’t just “feel” stupid — you actually become stupid. And when you can barely function on simple day-to-day survival activities, how can you expect to do something creative?
2. No self-editing until it’s done.
Editing is all about finding errors. And, yes, there will always be errors. But if you start focusing on what you’ve done “wrong” before you’ve even finished…chances are you’ll never finish. Save the editing for last.
3. Just write — even if it’s crap.
The hardest part is getting started. Once you’ve started: Don’t stop. Just keep writing. When I was writing The Ballad of Allison and Bandit (my YA novel), I ended up tossing an entire chapter that was just utter horrible unadulterated c~r~a~p. But I was glad that I’d written it. Because just the act of writing it helped give me the momentum I needed to write the good stuff!
4. Start wherever.
One thing that used to stymie my creative writing productivity when I was first starting out was the notion that I had to start at the beginning. After all, one of my favorite quotes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is the King’s line, “Begin at the beginning and go on ‘til you come to the end. Then stop.” It has a certain amount of sense to it, doesn’t it?
HOWEVER… In the real world, story ideas won’t always come to you in the right order. Don’t wait around for it all to fall into place. Start with what you’ve got! Even if that means starting somewhere in the middle or — gasp! — the end.
5. Keep an idea journal.
I like to have a notebook dedicated solely to “ideas.” When an idea comes to me, even if it’s just the smallest inkling of an idea, I jot it down in my journal. Even if it’s something that seems completely useless at the time (I have a whole page dedicated to fake band names!), you never know when it might come in handy later! (Dream journals are also great for drawing inspiration from if you get stuck).
6. Don’t force it (for a few hours).
Creative writing is a bit like falling in love. Don’t laugh! It’s true. And like falling in love (or comfortably relieving your bowels), you should never, ever force it.
Article writing is a bit different; however, if you’ve honestly tried and tried and nothing’s coming to you — wait. Try again later. Don’t underestimate the value of taking a break and coming back to it later. Just make sure you do come back to it.
7. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Think you haven’t done any writing today? Oh, come now. Don’t be that way. If you wrote an e-mail to a friend today, give yourself a pat on the back: You wrote something. Think that doesn’t count as creative writing? Bah! Of course it does. I mean, really, your daily life can’t be that interesting…and yet you wrote to your friend about it in a way that wouldn’t bore them to tears! THAT is creativity, my friend. Count it as a victory.
The moment you enter a public space, you’re going to hear people talking. Try to (nonchalantly!) pick up on what some of them are saying.
People are amazing. Listen to what they have to say — even if it’s just a snippet. Your mind can fill in the blanks. And that’s exactly where you start getting creative.
9. Strike up a conversation.
Similar to the above suggestion, but more proactive. Actually talk to people. Particularly people who aren’t fellow writers. Good/realistic writing doesn’t form in a vacuum.
Talk to others. Listen to their stories. Get a new perspective.
I love to write rhyming poetry. Maybe I read too much Dr. Suess as a wee babe or maybe, just maybe, I use it as a mental exercise. (Okay, both answers are correct).
But let’s talk about the latter: When you’re forced to find words that rhyme to tell a story, you end up mentally reviewing your entire vocabulary. Sometimes just the act of trying to find the right word makes it easier to write ones of your own.
11. Make a soundtrack.
This is one of my favorites for BIG projects. I like to imagine what the “soundtrack” would be if the story I’m working on got made into a movie. I create a music playlist and listen to it on repeat until the project is finished. It helps me focus, keeps me in the mood, and helps me capture the right “feel” of the overall project.
And sometimes I post my writing playlists on YouTube for you! 🙂
12. Don’t tell anyone.
Anyone who’s into reading self-help books (me!) or have had any form of life/business coaching (also me!) knows that “you have to get increased accountability.” You have to tell someone your goals. Well, while that might work for some things (I like to have an accountability buddy for my weight loss goals), but for creative things…not so much.
As soon as you tell someone you’re writing an article, you instantly start to lose your motivation to actually do it. So keep it to yourself. Just imagine how happy they’ll be once you tell them it’s DONE.
13. Make it pretty.
Sometimes plain old black and white text can get a little dull. Your brain starts to turn off. Add some color! Use different font colors or, my favorite, colored pens.
14. Write BIG.
Use your slightly-larger-than-normal handwriting you thought was fooling your teachers when you were younger. Or double-space your work when typing on the computer.
Even if you aren’t writing much, your brain will see it as a lot and you’ll get that feel-good rush you need to push you through.
15. Carry a pen and paper pad everywhere.
You never know when inspiration will strike. Be ready for it!
16. Be interviewed.
Think you’re not creative? Get put on the spot and think again! (You can also try an impromptu interview with someone else!)
17. Embrace the haters.
Many writers stop in their tracks when they start imagining the reactions they’ll get — especially if they imagine those reactions to be negative. Of course we all hope our writing will be loved by all… But don’t fear the haters. Embrace them!
Hate, while negative, is still a passionate reaction. And it was brought about by your powerful writing. How cool is that? The worst reaction a writer can get is indifference, not hate.
18. Make it a game.
Come up with word games! One of the games my roommate and I play is making up captions for pictures. Or describing complex topics in as few words as possible.
19. Use a pseudonym.
Is there something you’ve always wanted to write but were afraid to? Use a pseudonym (fake name) and write it anyway! After all, it’s not really “you” writing that controversial article (or all those slash fics!) now, is it? 😉
20. Write a letter to your past or future self.
Think deeply about your life. How would you describe it to a child version of yourself? Better yet, imagine what you’d like your life to be in the future — down to the last minute detail — and write a letter to your future self asking if any of your imaginings have come true. Get creative!
21. Engage in another form of creativity.
Draw, paint, sculpt, knit… Do something that works your creative muscles that isn’t writing. The truth is, sometimes you’ll get burned out. Doing something else for a while will help keep your creative muscles from atrophying while letting you take a break from writing.
22. Take pictures everywhere you go.
Most cell phones include cameras now. Use yours to take photos of interesting little tidbits you find on your daily journeys. A particularly gnarled tree, a chunk of sidewalk with a handprint in it, a group of people waiting for a late bus… Anything that piques your curiosity!
When you’re lacking for inspiration, click through your photo collection. Something in there is bound to spark an idea.
All the best writers read.
24. Call yourself a writer.
Stop calling yourself an “aspiring” writer! Do you write? Then you’re a writer! Just. A. Writer. Fess up to it. The sooner you admit what you are, the sooner you’ll shed your hang-ups and start making unbelievable writing progress. Once you start doing something, you’re no longer “aspiring” to do it — you just are.
25. Accept my dare.
I dare you to try out one of the tactics on this list today!